Sunday, December 31, 2017

English pronunciation (3): 7 Secret Pronunciation Rules Your Teachers Never Taught You

7 Secret Pronunciation Rules Your Teachers Never Taught You (but You Should Teach Your ESL Students)

English spelling is at best confusing and at worst a hot mess.

It is no wonder so many ESL students struggle with making the connection between written words in English and how they are pronounced. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. I am a big proponent of teaching the phonetic alphabet to ESL students, primarily because I think it makes a big difference in their ability to achieve accurate pronunciation. But sometimes the phonetic alphabet is not an option. You might have ESL students who are casually studying the language and do not want to cover any material so academic. You might opt out of teaching the phonetic alphabet because you just have too many other things to do. Or it might be some other reason. After all, how many dictionaries use the phonetic alphabet when listing the pronunciation for an entry? Whatever your reason for not using the phonetic alphabet, there is good news. As unpredictable as English spelling and pronunciation may seem at times, there are some rules that your students can follow when they encounter unfamiliar words. Here are seven simple spelling and pronunciation connections you can share with your students to help them achieve accurate pronunciation.

Remember Rules for Pronouncing Vowels

  1. Before going through these rules with your students, they will need to know the difference between short vowel sounds and long vowel sounds. If you are unclear about these definitions, look for an explanation in a standard English only dictionary or read about it here.
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    A Vowel Followed by a Single Consonant at the End of a Word Is Pronounced as a Short Vowel

    Words that conform to this rule are often some of the first that students of English (as well as native speakers) learn to read. Pup has cup. Man has ham. All of these words follow the short vowel + consonant rule. You might see these words represented in this way. CVC.
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    A Vowel Followed by Two Consonants at the End of a Word Is Pronounced as a Short Vowel

    Words that conform to this rule may be single vowels followed by a consonant blend (see below for an explanation of consonant blends) or those that are followed by two distinct consonants. You may see these types of words represented in this way. CVCC. Some examples include the following: stops, want, hand, wish, and bark.
  4. 3

    If a Vowel Is the Final Letter in a Word, It Is Pronounced as a Long Vowel

    A vowel at the end of a word may appear in a single syllable word or a multisyllabic word. Either way, the pronunciation rule remains the same. A final vowel at the end of a word is pronounced as a long vowel. Some examples of single syllable words which follow this rule are go, pi, lo, be, and he. Multiple syllable examples include ago and ego. You might see these words represented like this CV.
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    If an E Appears at the End of a Word, It Is Silent. The Preceding Vowel (Separated from the E by One or More Consonants) Will Be Pronounced as a Long Vowel

    Silent e is one of the first spelling rules children learn in school, and no wonder since it is so common in English. If you are teaching phonics, you might have students underline or cross out the silent e and mark the preceding vowel as long. You might see words which follow this rule represented in this way: CVCe. You can find examples throughout the English language, but some of them are hate, care, note, flute, bite, nice, and ape.
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    If Two Vowels Appear next to Each Other in One Syllable, the Second Vowel Is Silent and the First Vowel Is Pronounced as a Long Vowel

    We see vowel combinations all the time in English. A general rule as to their pronunciation is to say the first vowel and ignore the second. These vowel combinations come in all kinds of match ups. You might see words which follow this rule represented this way: CVVC. English examples include true, beat, train, leaf, and load.

Consider Rules for Pronouncing Consonants

  1. One thing to keep in mind when discussing consonant pronunciation are consonant blends. A consonant blend is two or more letters that are pronounced as one sound in English. Some blends are clearly two sounds which become one complex sound (for example bl in black, tr as in atrophy). They often include the letters l, r, or s but not always. Other “blends” are actually only one English sound which is spelled by using two or more consonants. These sounds include sh (wish), ch (chair), tch (watch) and others.
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    If One Consonant Follows a Vowel in the Middle of a Word, It Is Pronounced as the First Sound in the Next Syllable

    Where a consonant is pronounced in a word does make a difference in a student’s pronunciation, particularly if they speak slowly. Think about the difference between pap-er and pa-per. Clearly the second is the correct pronunciation while the first sounds, at best, strange, and at worst like a different word entirely. Other examples include tele-phone (not teleph-one), la-bor (not lab-or), lo-cate (not loc-ate) and pro-tect (not prot-ect).
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    When Two Consonants Follow a Vowel in the Middle of a Word, One Consonant Is Pronounced at the End of the First Syllable and the Other Is Pronounced at the Beginning of the Next Vowel

    Of course, consonant blends act as one consonant sound, but non-blend neighboring consonants will follow this rule. When a consonant is doubled in the middle of a word, it also follows this rule. Some examples include sub-ject, tal-ly, ab-ject, top-ple, and haz-mat.
Ultimately, English is a complicated language with complicated rules of spelling and pronunciation. These rules, while generally true, do have exceptions. When you teach them to your students, be sure that they know these rules are not hard and fast and that exceptions can be found to each of them. They may choose to use these rules to pronounce words they have never seen before, or they may use the rules to determine the spelling of an unfamiliar word they have heard pronounced. What matters most, however, is that these rules give your students a place to start when they encounter a word that they do not know how to pronounce.

What other pronunciation rules do you teach your ESL students?

English pronunciation (3): 10 Common Words with Strange Spellings

Here at Pronunciation Studio we are the first to admit that English spelling can be very strange sometimes. Unfortunately some very common words are spelt very strangely, so here is our list of 10 of the worst offending examples and a guide to how to pronounce them.

1. Mortgage /ˈmɔːgɪdʒ/

Both the letters ‘r’ and ’t’ are silent in this word. As a suffix, ’age’ is pronounced as /ɪdʒ/.

2. Colonel /ˈkɜ:nəɫ/

The first ‘l’ in this word is silent. Neither ‘o’ should be pronounced with rounded lips.

3. Queue /kjuː/

Don’t try to pronounce all the vowels in the spelling in this word. Pronounce ‘queue’ the same way as the letter ‘q’ or ‘cue’ as in the stick used for playing snooker.

4. Genuinely /ˈdʒenjuɪnli/

This word contains just four syllables. Don’t forget the /j/ sound after the ’n’.

5. Language /ˈlæŋgwɪdʒ/

Here is another example of the spelling rule seen in mortgage! There is also a secret /w/ sound that needs to be pronounced.

6. Squirrel /ˈskwɪrəɫ/

The consonant cluster ‘squi’ is not common but can be quite tricky to pronounce. Try practising saying the two syllables (/skwɪ/ and /rəɫ/ ) separately first and then try putting them together.

7. Butcher /ˈbʊtʃə/

This word should not be pronounced in the same way as ‘but’. Instead, the first syllable should rhyme with ‘put’.

8. Epitome /ɪˈpɪtəmi/

Pronounce the ‘o’ as a schwa in this word, rather than a more rounded vowel.

9. Yoghurt /ˈjɒgət/

There is no pronounced /h/ in ‘yoghurt’. Pronounce the end with a schwa and a /t/ sound.

10. Choir /ˈkwaɪə/

‘ch’ is typically pronounced as /tʃ/ or /ʃ/ at the beginning of a word, although it is also quite likely to be pronounced with a /k/ sound. Other words spelt with ‘ch’ and pronounced with a /k/ sound include: christmas, chaos and chord.

English pronunciation (2): 14 Phonics Rules for Reading and Spelling

14 Phonics Rules for Reading and Spelling

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Phonics instruction teaches the connection between word sounds and written letters. It’s a key part of learning to read. But phonics instruction also teaches spelling patterns. For success in both reading and spelling, here are some important phonics rules to know.
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Short and long vowels

When a vowel is followed by one consonant, that vowel is usually short. A vowel is usually short when there is only one vowel in a word or syllable as in on, red and fantastic.
A vowel is long when it says its own name. When a single vowel is at the end of a word or syllable, it usually makes the long vowel sound, as in go and paper.
Vowels also have long sounds when they’re paired with a silent e or when they are vowel digraphs (two vowels paired together).
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Vowels in syllables

Every syllable of every word must have at least one vowel. A vowel can stand alone in a syllable, as in unit and animal. It can also be surrounded by consonants, as in jet, shut and fantastic.
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Silent ‘e’

When e is the last letter in a word, and there’s only one other vowel in that word, the first vowel usually says its own name and the e is silent, as in cake.
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Consonant digraphs and blends

In a consonant digraph, two consonants work together to form one sound that isn’t like either of the letters it’s made from. Examples include chap, ship, think and photo.
Consonant blends are groups of two or three consonants whose individual sounds can be heard as they blend together. Examples of that are clam, scrub and grasp.
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Vowel digraphs and diphthongs

In a vowel digraph, when two vowels are paired together, the first one is long and the other is silent, as in boat, paint and beach.
In a diphthong, a new speech sound is formed when two vowels are paired together, as in cloud or boil.
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R-controlled vowels

When a vowel is followed by an r in the same syllable, that vowel is “r-controlled” and is no longer short. Sometimes we refer to the r as “bossy r” because the r “bosses” the vowel to make a new sound, as in spark, cork, germ, birthday and burn.
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The ‘schwa’ sound

Any vowel can make the schwa sound; it sounds like uh. Words like banana, vitamin, item, and another have the schwa sound.
The schwa is only found in words with more than one syllable, but never in the “accented” syllable. The schwa is the most common sound in the English language!
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Soft ‘c’ and hard ‘c’ and soft ‘g’ and hard ‘g’

When the letter c is followed by the vowels ei or y, it usually makes its soft sound. Examples of that are cent, circus and cytoplasm. The letter c also makes a hard sound, as in cat and cocoa.
When the letter g is followed by the vowels ei or y, it usually makes its soft sound. Examples of that are gel, giant and gym. The letter g also makes a hard sound, as in gas, gorilla and yogurt.
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The ‘fszl’ (fizzle) rule

When fsz and l follow a vowel at the end of a one-syllable word, they’re usually doubled, as in stuff, grass, fuzz and shell.
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Using ‘k’ or ‘ck’

We use ck at the end of one-syllable word when it follows a short vowel, as in duck and trick. We use k when there’s another consonant immediately following the vowel, as in task and drink.
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The /j/ sound and the /ch/ sound

When the /j/ sound follows a short vowel in a one-syllable word, it’s usually spelled dge as in badge, hedge, bridge, dodge and smudge. (The protects the vowel from “magic e.”)
When the /ch/ sound follows a short vowel in a one-syllable word, it’s usually spelled tch as in catch, fetch, stitch, blotch and clutch. Common exceptions are the words suchmuchrich and which.
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When adding ed or ing to a word, we double the consonant if the vowel before that consonant is short. Examples of that are gripped and winning. We don’t double the consonant when the vowel is long.
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Plural nouns

When a plural noun ends with sssshchx or z, we add es to make it plural, as in classes, brushes and foxes. Otherwise, we just add s, as in cats.
When a plural noun ends with y and it follows a consonant, as in pony, family and baby, we usually change the y to i before adding es to make it plural: ponies, families and babies.
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Broken rules

In the English language, phonics rules are often broken. Your child will frequently come across exceptions to the rule. But your child’s teacher or reading specialist will teach those, too!